April 1, 2013
Volume 77, Number 4
Journey From Motherhood to Academic Anesthesiology and Back Again
Amy J. Reed, M.D., Ph.D.
This is a story not of a life’s transition, but rather a daily transition. After I awake, there are the day’s chores of motherhood to be completed. It’s not long into the morning, however, when I assume my professional responsibilities. These circumstances are not unique to our family. What places us on the far side of the curve is the degree to which we have taken on these challenges. We have six children, two boys and four girls. They range in age from 7 months to newly achieved “double digits.” I am a very busy mother, complete with school projects and seasonal clothing changes, but I am also a full-time anesthesiologist and intensive care physician in a large academic hospital. What about my husband, you ask? He’s a cardiothoracic surgical fellow.
How did we get here and how do we do it? We’ve been asked that before. My husband and I always wanted a large family. We met as graduate students and married during my first year of medical school. Our first child was born during my second year as I was completing my Ph.D. Our second and third children were born while studying for USMLE step 1 and 2, respectively. My intern year saw the birth of our fourth, and our fifth arrived during my final year in residency. Then I began a yearlong fellowship in surgical critical care, with its complement of in-house, overnight call. Critical care made me feel right at home. Instead of multiple fires needing to be put out to calls of “MOM!” it was “Dr. REED!” I loved it. My husband’s fellowship then led us north to Boston, where I joined the staff of Harvard Medical School at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Our sixth child was born this year.
How we do what we do day after day is a little more involved. My ability to be fully engaged in patient care is dependent on having confidence that when I walk out the door in the morning I know that my children will be well cared for. We employ a tiered childcare system that overlaps the schedules of two and occasionally three individuals, thereby maximizing flexibility. The redundancy built into this system buffers against unforeseen events, as the O.R. schedule has little tolerance for my nanny’s flat tire or unplowed driveway. The result of this costly and time-consuming system is that I am able to consistently focus on my work. I am certainly less likely to pick up extra late shifts or stop by for happy hour than I was 15 years ago, but when I am at the hospital, that’s where I am.
Things don’t always run smoothly. There are nanny fails, household disasters and the packing up for the move to Boston ... Well, let’s not even go there. Overall, I tell people that I like what I do enough to do it. I am aware of the sacrifices made as a result of my choices. If I didn’t think I made a difference to my patients, then it wouldn’t be worth doing. I believe our children, as they grow, are beginning to appreciate the gravity of what we do and why we do it, which will be the ultimate measure of our success. I’ve also been very blessed. Our children are healthy. They do well in school. They behave relatively well for the individuals we have thus far been fortunate to have help us care for them. We have outstanding, albeit not local, family support. My husband, who works much longer hours than I do, supports my endeavors. Perhaps knowing how much my accomplishments rest on these blessings provides me with the enthusiasm to approach my days at work. I am aware that at any minute something could change that would require more of my presence at home, and that I would have to give up all I have worked toward.
So while my daily role transitions from mother to anesthesiologist and back, I am wholly better because of both. Being a mother has made me a more compassionate physician, better able to multitask and prioritize. Being a physician has made me a more organized mother, more appreciative of my time at home. For me, academic medicine was as natural an extension of myself as was children, a path to nurturing and teaching and touching the future.
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